From the moment he was born in a hospital in Kenya, Gilchrist Lokoel’s path did not follow his father’s expectations. When you are one of scores of children born to an area chief who has eight wives, this is not the best way to start the relationship.
After two days of labor under the care of a traditional birth attendant failed to produce the child, Lokoel’s mother was referred to the hospital. An Irish missionary surgeon, Dr. Gilchrist, helped deliver the large infant (4.6 kg or 10.12 pounds). Lokoel’s mother promptly named her son in Gilchrist’s honor. This also did not endear the infant son to his father, the chief. Rather than accepting the visible evidence of a strong, healthy child, the chief was concerned that something might be wrong with the child if he wasn’t strong enough to be born without surgical assistance.
So, instead of caring for the family’s cows and goats, as the children born to the chief’s second wife were intended to do, Lokoel was deemed too weak to work with the valuable livestock. Instead, he had the time to go to school where all 11 children of the chief’s first wife had attended. His birth mother, who was 16 when she married and 17 when he was born, ultimately had two other children who took charge of the livestock. Meanwhile, Lokoel had the time, if not the resources, to pursue an education and a dream.
Although he was more alike than different from his classmates, including the fact that they all went to school barefoot by necessity rather than choice, Lokoel had different thoughts on his mind. “I was not very sure of what lay ahead. I knew the world only through the prism of my village,“ he says. He was curious and wanted to learn more, see more, do more. He recognized that he needed more education but there were obstacles.
When Lokoel was eight years old, ChildFund came into his life and transformed it again through sponsorship.
“My experience with ChildFund was fabulous,” he says. “They would organize fun days with athletic competitions during school holidays.” When school was in session, Lokoel and other children would receive health care supplements like vitamins and medication.
Lokoel’s eyes opened up to a career in the medical field as a result of letters from his sponsors. “Through their letters about doctors, nurses and engineers, I [learned] there is more out there. [More] that I can be as long as I work hard,” he says. “Many women and my peers had died of preventable diseases, so I knew I wanted to do something for my people.”
Four years later, he channeled that newfound focus and confidence into a competitive project and gained something he’d never had. “I won an essay competition and a science competition,” he recalls. “As a reward, I got my first pair of shoes in my life. I am telling you, it feels nice to put on shoes for the first time.”
With ChildFund’s help, Lokoel’s life was forever changed. “I was given hope and a future that I can be what I want to be.”
Today, Lokoel cares for 300,000 people in the Turkana District of Kenya. As the District Medical Officer and the district’s only doctor, Lokoel and his staff of four nurses provide primary health care for the population of the vast region.
He also works at the district’s only hospital, Lodwar Hospital, where he and four other doctors try to hold the tide against cholera, polio and AIDS/HIV epidemics while also treating the severely ill and managing whatever surgeries need to be done — even if it’s not their specialty.
Lokoel applies the lessons he has learned from his ChildFund supporters who reached out to help a child they didn’t even know: “You have to do it yourself, because if you don’t do it, look at the alternative,” he says, referring to what happens if no one helps those who need it or passes them along to someone else for help. Instead, Lokoel prefers to “fold up your sleeves and get to work.”